Now Scream This: Horror Movies That Celebrate The American Nightmare

(Welcome to Now Scream This, a column where horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato tell you what scary, spooky, and spine-tingling movies are streaming and where you can watch them.)

Matt: As America's day of independence approaches and people ready their President Bill Pullman tweets, my mind still pulsates with horrific thoughts. It's how I'm wired. I'll be right there chugging Budweiser from "AmeriCANS" and grilling patties of red meat in the name of our founding fathers, but before such festivities provide their patriotic distractions, let's not forget the flaming hellscape we currently live in. God bless America, forever and always my home – now let's talk about the movies that refuse to sugarcoat the paranoia around us and how we're all doomed to OH LOOK PRETTY FIREWORKS! 

Chris: In honor of the 4th of July, Matt and I are devoting the latest Now Scream This to films that celebrate not the American Dream, but the American Nightmare. What a twist! I don't want to launch into a political screed here, but as you crack open a cold one and chow down on some hot dogs to celebrate America's birthday this week, it's almost impossible to ignore how tumultuous the mood of the country has become here in the hell year that is 2018. So with that in mind, here's some all-American horror. 

Always Shine

Now Streaming on Shudder

Matt: Sophia Takal's Always Shine was shot and finished ahead of its time, unbeknownst to anyone involved how Donald Trump's inauguration would elevate gender themes to higher-than-intended levels. In the film, Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald fight against one another as women pitted in competition when they should be allies. Failed by social norms that force female identities all about being thoughtless, submissive playthings for men to flaunt like trophies. Powerful women are viewed as threats and not permitted the success of arm candy dollies who know their place, which stings so much more given Trump's denouncement of accusers and an air of misogyny that's been stoked under the current regime. Always Shine was supposed to be exaggerated at best, but alas, life and art collide in a way that's tragically recognizable as both lead actresses produce an outstandingly acted cry for help in the form of Takal's getaway thriller.

"It's a women's birthright to be attractive and charming." A bowl of flowers on the "table of life." Yeeeesh, please watch this movie.

Chris: This movie is phenomenal. If the Academy was really worth a damn, they would've nominated Mackenzie Davis for Best Actress for this film in a heartbeat. Always Shine is like Mulholland Drive meets All About Eve, and once it ends, you won't soon forget it.

Willow Creek

Now Streaming on Shudder and Amazon Prime

Matt: Every country has at least one speculated urban legend told by those who've dared to admit personal sightings. Scotland has the Loch Ness Monster. Slavic folklore has Baba Yaga. America has Sasquatch or Bigfoot, who has attracted quite the following of seekers hellbent on proving said myth's reality. Filmmaker and comedian Bobcat Goldthwait is one such "Squatcher" – actual nickname for people who hunt Sasquatch – and his 2013 film Willow Creek is a fictional tale of US-bred terror that lurks within our borders. Carloads of tourists flock to Willow Creek every year in hope of catching a glimpse of their great white buffalo, which is exactly what Jim (Bryce Johnson) and Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) do. While some might mock those at Willow Creek who've devoted their lives to Bigfoot-themed pancakes and cabin walls full of blurry "evidence" photos, this is about what happens when your wildest dreams are proven right – and they fight back. Kudos to Mr. Goldthwait for this found footage camping thriller worth all his wildest "Squatchin'" theories, along with one 20-minute-ish long take inside a tent that shows the former Police Academy crackup is far more than a pitchy voice.

Chris: What's fun about this film is that is starts off a bit silly, then gradually turns into something surprisingly unpleasant. Much like me after I've had a few brewskies at your BBQ

Get Out

Now Streaming on HBO GO

Matt: If I need to explain why Jordan Peele's Get Out is a horror movie, your last name is probably "Armitage." While we've come a long way from where racial injustices first began, there's still – by virtue of evidence even in the last few years – a long way to go. Get Out is a commentary on so many different paranoias projected through an artistically genius genre lense, because Peele needs people to listen. Everything from the deer imagery to blatantly obvious takeovers of culture that occur when wealthy white suburbanites inhabit the bodies of hand-picked colored targets. Decades from now, people will still be referencing Bradley Whitford's line about voting for Obama a third time or Catherine Keener's swirling-spoon hypnosis that unlocks Peele's "Sunken Place." Daniel Kaluuya represents the desperations of too many who've been failed time and time again; Allison Williams the mousy harvester who sent internet theorists into turmoil just by refusing to mix Fruit Loops with pure, angel-white milk.

Peele puts his message in terms that anyone can understand, hoping to reach wider audiences who awaken to the world around them (directly influenced by police shootings making news rounds during the film's production).

Chris: Every now and then, someone realizes that the horror genre can be more than jumpscares and rehashes. Peele's Get Out is a brilliant example of this: a creepy, funny piece of entertainment that just also happens to have one hell of a message. Peele has said he plans to stick with the horror genre for a while, and I couldn't be more thrilled about that.

The Crazies (2010)

Now Streaming on Starz

Matt: Romero remakes have and will forever be a horror genre staple (hell, how many Day Of The Dead revamps are there). Breck Eisner's The Crazies is no shock by existence, but it is surprisingly well adjusted as a 2010 update. It's the American dream gone to hell. Timothy Olyphant's first action is to protect fans and players at a local baseball game from the "crazed" gunman in centerfield. We know Ogden Marsh's resident has been infected by Trixie, a Rhabdoviridae prototype biological weapon that the US government accidentally unleashed when a transportation craft goes down. Cleaner protocols are enacted, quarantines are established that study instead of help, and innocent lives are ended in ruthless manners. Simply enough, Ogden Marsh is doomed by the very elected officials who should be there to protect it. Given our current political climate, I haven't been this seen since my girlfriend described "Drunk Donato" as "incredibly sweet and utterly destructive."

Chris: People don't really talk about this remake much, and that's a shame. It's well-made, and will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. I mean that as a compliment. Also, you can't go wrong with Timothy Olyphant.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

Now Streaming on Amazon Prime

Matt: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's red, white and blue-blooded remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown is small-town terrorization that needs to be talked about more. In it, Charles B. Pierce's original Texarkana slasher exists as a film based on real murders. This causes a copycat "Phantom" killer to surface years later who replicates the film's death sequences as means of homage. Hollywood is blurred with reality. Media coverage and the furthering of a legend brings about someone trying to capitalize on the same popularity by way of reenactment. There may be more to the story than this – townsfolk histories and a path paved some 60-ish years prior – but twisted American ideal ring rather loudly right now as politicians and online "influencers" find it easier to build brands based around outrage that garners attention in any form. Times change, and so can a film's meaning. In this case, Gomez-Rejon's paint-by-numbers slasher is now built on history repeating itself with a public audience.

Chris: Please don't be angry with me, dear reader, but I find the original Town That Dreaded Sundown to be boring as sin. Aside from the admittedly badass title, the film drags, and the only memorable scene is when the killer murders someone with a trombone (I'm not kidding). The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake, however, is a pleasant surprise. It's also very clever, and not in an annoying, "Look how clever this movie is!" way. I dig it.

Most Beautiful Island

Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Chris: I'm not really sure how Ana Asensio came from seemingly nowhere and ended up directing one of the best horror movies of the last ten years, but life is funny sometimes. Asensio's Most Beautiful Island tracks the immigrant experience in America as a series of uncomfortable situations building into full-blown nightmares. Asensio plays Luciana, an undocumented woman just trying to get by in New York City. When a friend offers her a high-paying gig that seems way too good to be true, Asensio can't afford to be picky. She heads out into the night, and ends up in a situation utterly strange and squirm-inducing. The more I say, the less effective it will be. Just know that Asensio's direction is assured and chilling – she finds exciting new ways to portray the mental angst running through Luciana's mind. The prospect of the American Dream lurks beneath it all, and the final shot of the film wordlessly sums this message up in ways that will leave you shook, as the kids say.

Matt: Ana Asensio won the 2017 SXSW Grand Jury Award in a move that surprised even myself – until I caught one of the last Most Beautiful Island screenings shortly before my flight home. This is, in every way, a look at the America so many deal with versus what they're promised. Filmed right where I spend nights drinking (Videology Bar & Cinema) or walking NYC streets (Williamsburg). Man does context and familiarity only help but drive an already smoldering message home.

The Bay

Now Streaming on Shudder

Chris: You may not know this, but Barry Levinson, the guy who directed Rain Man, also made a found-footage horror flick. That film is The Bay, a movie that was virtually ignored upon release but is really worth being rediscovered. Set over a 4th of July weekend, The Bay focuses on a town thrown into chaos when a waterborne parasite begins claiming victims left and right. It sounds a bit silly, but Levinson makes it all work, and the parasites themselves – based on a real parasite called Cymothoa exigua – are effectively terrifying. American flags flap in the breeze, the sun beams down, and human beings are turned into hosts for the icky parasites. U.S.A.!

Matt: There's such an inexcusably shallow pool of July 4th horror to wade in, which makes The Bay all-the-more essential. Creepy containment chaos. Gets a pass in my book (also, I think I need to write an "All Found Footage Horror Isn't Bad" op-ed).

Mohawk

Now Streaming on Netflix

Chris: With Mohawk, We Are Still Here director Ted Geoghegan crafts a film that plays like like a cross between Last House on the Left and The Last of the Mohicans. Geoghegan's film may be set in the 1800s, but it's very much a film about today, telling a story about cruel, angry white men threatened by the very idea of the other. The bad guys here are dressed in period-appropriate attire, but they might as well be wearing bright-red MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hats on their sweaty heads. A polyamorous couple consisting of a Brit and two Mohawk warriors run afoul of a group of American soldiers somewhere in the wilderness. What follows is a seemingly never-ending chase. Eventually, the lone woman in the group – played by Kaniehtiio Horn – rises up for bloody revenge. Mohawk is a low budget affair, and yet Geoghegan and company find a way to make the most of what they have. Watching Mohawk, I couldn't help think of this quote from William S. Burroughs: "America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil. Before the settlers, before the Indians... the evil was there... waiting."

Matt: Ted Geoghegan approached Mohawk with responsibility, passion and a desire to draw attention back to necessary subjects. You could tell how much the film meant to him during his post Fantasia Fest premiere Q&A, pointing to the crowd where natives were sitting (aside from his cast). All this rings true in Mohawk, and makes for a period watch that's more than just genre thrills.

Cape Fear (1991)

Now Streaming on MAX GO

Chris: Sooner or later, the past is going to catch up with you. Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear is a nasty, nasty, nasty thriller that takes the 1962 film of the same name and turns it into something borderline perverse. At one point, Steven Spielberg was supposed to direct this, but Spielberg – one of our great humanist filmmakers – realized the material wasn't right for him and handed it off to Scorsese. Scorsese then proceeded to make a slick-yet-horrifying portrait of evil. Unlike the original film, Scorsese's Cape Fear isn't cut and dry. The good guy in the original, played by Gregory Peck, is a righteous man, while the bad guy (Robert Mitchum) is bad news. Scorsese isn't interested in such obvious storytelling. Instead, he turns the "good guy" (played here by Nick Nolte) into a morally grey individual – someone who cheats on his wife and is willing to break the law, even though he's a lawyer. Nolte's past actions come back to haunt him when one of his old clients (a ripped and somewhat hammy Robert De Niro) gets out of jail and seeks revenge. In a sense, Scorsese is telling a story about America's past transgressions rising up out of the earth and coming back for vengeance. Americans had to do a lot of terrible things to claim this land, and what Scorsese's film is saying here is that we can only run from that past for so long before it shows up on our doorstep.

Matt: Am I allowed to admit Cape Fear is a blind spot? Can I return in two weeks with more recommendations? Am I booted off /Film?

Green Room

Now Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Chris: When Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room hit theaters in 2015, it seemed like a fantastic John Carpenter homage with no real-world implications. Little did we know that in a year, Green Room's story about a group of people locked into a location by angry, violent Nazis would be eerily prophetic. Here in 2018, we're just like the punk rockers of Green Room, trapped and surrounded by bigoted extremists who seem to hold all the cards. But even if you're not in the mood to reflect on such social commentary, Green Room still offers one hell of a kick. It's a brutal, engrossing trip through hell, featuring one of the final performances from Anton Yelchin. Yelchin is great here, as he usually was. But the real standout is Patrick Stewart, playing the Nazi leader who is so strangely calm and persuasive that it's unnerving.

Matt: Green Room is damn-near perfect. When the Ain't Rights start belting out "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" in a room full of skinheads, it's a perfect moment that violently highlights the pushes and shoves of protest. This was never an easy watch, but now? How about we go back to when Saulnier's work didn't hold as much societal reverence.